The Cloud, 2172, the control zone of the 72nd Olympiad of the modern era

"I can't get used to that revolting statue the Committee put up to me," grumbled Ferdinand, honorary Chairperson of the Olympics.

"You don't have to look at it, Dad," reminded Jocelyn, who had come along for the judging ceremony. "You could just appear in the control zone."

"Yes, I know, but it's polite to pass through the crowd in the vestibule. People still want autographs and suchlike. I can't understand why they still remember me; it's twenty years now since I stepped down."

Ferdinand had been re-elected as head of the Assembly for his fourth five-year term in 2146, as he explained to everyone, "only to make sure they get rid of all this fizz nonsense." Even after 15 years of further RCC and e-clone development, and with 99% of people agreeing that life in the cloud was now more real and interesting than life in fizz in virtually every respect, there were still backsliders who wanted to preserve the old ways. Part of their reasoning was that it wasn't safe for the race to depend on electronics for its continuance. This was highly illogical after The Singularity in 2140, when the capacity of the cloud became limitless, and itself reached to 500 light years from earth, expanding by 100 light years every year as humanity leap-frogged from planet to planet, leaving self-replicating electronic booster stations as it went. Although communication between entangled bodies is effectively instantaneous within 50 light years of the Earth, eventually it turned out that there is a very slight attenuation of the quantum field effect at greater distances: a result of the fact that the field results from the successive entanglements of all organic cells during 5 billion years of evolution, which is obviously strongest at the centre of evolutionary development. One of the proofs, so far, of the uniqueness of the earth is the fact that the attentuation is even, as precisely as it can so far be measured. If it reversed at some point, that would be strong evidence for another location for organic development.

The concept of time itself doesn't retain much meaning for humans. The Earth still revolves around the sun, of course, so in that sense there are still years, and in order to use the non-locality of a move from one place or moment to another it is necessary to have an agreed frame of reference for starting point and finishing point, which all participants can fix on. One individual can muster enough mental power to move a minute amount of matter instantaneously, but the transfer of a larger amount of matter, say a tonne of selenium ore from a moon of Centaurus Delta to the fab 10 light years away, requires the combined efforts of several hundred people. There are equations to relate mind power to mass and time, horrendously complex, but more importantly it requires concentration and experience on the part of the RCC participants. So mind power became commoditized, and valuable: a market grew up in the supply of mind power, and many people chose to earn contribution in this way. Moving matter turned out to be much easier to accomplish than moving time, said to be because your links to other people and the implications of changing time were vastly more complex than what is involved for the tonne of selenium ore. So in practice no-one could afford to move or forecast even a few days into the future, and most of the time there wasn't much utility in doing so.

Individuals, especially if they had abandoned their bodies, which was increasingly the case after 2140, exist in a kind of electronic stasis outside place and time in constant communion with the collective unconscious, or rather in the quantum field, in which they can conduct their affairs, say, learning all 32 piano sonatas of Beethoven, but if they then want to perform them to an audience, they would need to be present in a particular cyber location at a particular time, along with the members of the audience. If the audience were themselves experienced RCC denizens, they would probably be able to create the performance space themselves, but more likely they would call on (and pay for) extra resources in order to create and maintain the space for as long as it was needed. And of course a specific starting time would be involved, although the performance itself would then take place instantaneously.

People (well, their e-clones) still have a 'now', a remembered present, and in that sense move through time. But the year which seemed to pass by while you were on your own learning the sonatas, or the hours that you spent performing them would not occupy any time at all.

The Olympics had changed, of course. It had always been expensive in terms of fizz time for athletes to train, something they obviously couldn't do in the cloud; and there were ever more problems with bionic implants, impermissible additives and the rest. The expansion of RCCs solved those problems to a large degree, since a number of RCCs could compete with each other in ever more fantastical ways. Nativists said that the Olympics should be about individual achievement; but since Olympic success had always been seen as an achievement on behalf of one's country, it was quite easy to slide into a more 'groupish' way of thinking about it, and a French RCC can compete very happily and satisfactorily with a German one, to the extent that the words 'French' and 'German' continue to have resonance when hardly anyone goes to those places any more.

By 2172, with ever fewer people going to the trouble and expense of maintaining their physical bodies, the fizz version of the Olympics had completely withered away - the last earth-bound Olympics took place in 2158. After he resigned from the Assembly, Ferdinand was asked to be a figurehead at the Olympics, which he was happy enough to do, smiling benignly at all and sundry as national or other types of RCCs received their gongs.

Today was the culminating day of the Olympiad, with the '150s' as they are called - RCCs with 150 members each - competing in various cultural events: mixed media alignments, mathematical theory, multi-dimensional dance, and so on. Judging is of course by subsets of the full human RCC, with its 15 billion members. It's not compulsory to vote, but there is contribution to be won if you do, which means qualifying in one or more of the relevant specializations in order to be admitted to the judging panel. Panels vary wildly in size, with the most popular numbering several billion members.

The competitions, and the judging of them, take place instantaneously, but they are spaced out so that there can be a medal ceremony in normal time, at which Ferdinand, on this last day of the event, presents medals to national representatives. After the last event, he has arranged a family luncheon in a cyber representation of a Viennese imperial banqueting hall.

"Dad," complained Jocelyn, "you could fit 100 people in this room, and look at us, there's only a dozen of us at this table."

"There's going to be an entertainment," said Ferdinand. "Lisa is going to play the Prometheus ballet music, and there will be 18th century ballet dancers."

And it was true that a concert grand Bosendorfer stood in front of a stage erected at the other end of the room.

"Meanwhile, just enjoy the Bollinger." Alcohol in cyber-space has exactly the same effect as it does in fizz, if you choose to drink it.

They stood up and raised their glasses: Ferdinand, Aloysia, Michael, Betty, Frans Wallendorf, Jocelyn, John, Lisa, Slavica, Sven, Peter, and Petra (Peter's 'sister').

"To our family," proclaimed Ferdinand.

"To our family," they echoed.

"What are your thoughts?" asked Michael, when the hubbub of greetings and social chatter died down a little and they tucked into smoked salmon. "I mean, have we, people, done the right thing? Where do you see it going?"

There was an expectant hush.

"I'm 127 years old," said Ferdinand, "but my physical body is not immortal, because I missed out a few of the important steps before the whole process was really well understood. Probably I'm about halfway through my physical life, that's if I keep my body going. I know some people here have already dumped their fizz bodies, and a lot of my contemporaries have done it. I think about it, but I'm still clinging to some old-fashioned ideas about living a 'natural' life. That's silly, I know. For someone born in the last 100 years, they think differently; here is the reality - fizz is just a sort of dream world they amuse themselves with. Will I keep going after my fizz body becomes decrepit? Of course I could; thanks to Slavica here and the rest of you guys, the e-clones have got everything and more that human brains used to have. Then there is the whole excitement of the RCC world. I think I could get tired of myself, on my own, but I don't see how anyone could get tired of life in RCCs. So the jury is out, for me, maybe I'll stay, maybe I'll go. We'll see."

He paused, but no-one seemed to want to say anything.

"The jury isn't out for humanity, though. We obviously did the right thing by giving up our over-crowded, depleted, angry planet and letting it revert to a more natural state. There are 15 billion of us now, and fewer every day, but as a species we are almost infinitely strong. We were extremely vulnerable before; now, I wouldn't say we are invulnerable, but close to it, at least in terms of the dangers we know about and can imagine."

"Where is it going? That's the other half of the question, and I can't answer. The first electronic computer dates from half way through the 20th century, and here we are just 220 years later, unimaginably more advanced. It's a tiny period of time, one fiftieth of recorded history, more or less. Maybe one of you younger people want to have a guess about what's to come? I can't."

"I don't know how old I am," joked Slavica, "so I don't know if I count as young or not, but part of me at least is just 40, so perhaps I qualify to say something for the youngsters."

"Go on," said Michael. "Spill the beans."

"For me," she admitted, "individuality is a spandrel by now. I can see that it had a function, partly in reproduction, as a mechanism to allow variation, and partly in the group, to allow the evolution of social behaviours. But by then it was more a case of dealing with a problem than looking for advancement. Of course, if it hadn't happened, we wouldn't be here, there would be no Beethoven, no Einstein, no Hitler. But now we have gotten around it. We have found a way of enabling groups to express themselves, so we don't need individuals any more. Any given group is a bundle of characteristics and behaviours, infinitely variable, whether at random or in pursuit of a particular goal. So I think that the long term result will be a decay of separate individuality in favour of multifarious groups, ever-shifting, evanescent. I puzzle slightly over whether egos will remain, but I suppose they aren't needed, and each group itself will have its own ego, so to speak. Its own awareness of itself might be a better way of putting it."

"But in pursuit of what?" chipped in Sven. "If I am not around to want things, to enjoy them, to be unhappy, what is the point of it all."

"Yes, it's hard to explain," confessed Slavica. "But when multicellular animals metamorphosed into more complex ones, they didn't have egos. The blind matchmaker again. RCCs beat e-clones, because the experience is better; they are more effective at solving problems. Maybe the end result will be one all-encompassing group that has solved all problems and exists in a state of perpetual nirvana. Isn't that what the Buddhists wanted?"

"Oh," said Ferdinand. "What a prospect! Shall we just get drunk, instead?"


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